Chaia, the fast-casual counter that sells its all-veggie tacos at two D.C. locations, will see how well its business works in Bethesda. The company announced plans today to open its first Maryland shop at a pop-up space in downtown Bethesda this fall.
Co-owner Bettina Stern tells Eater the brand has acquired a one-year lease inside a former Häagen-Dazs shop (7237 Woodmont Avenue) next to Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. If the long-term pop-up goes well, there’s a chance Chaia will park there for a longer duration. As of July 20, Landmark had not reopened the three D.C.-area movie theaters that have been temporarily closed during the pandemic.
Co-owners Suzanne Simon and Stern began serving their meat-free tacos at local farmers’ markets before setting up shop in Georgetown in 2015. A second, larger location followed in Chinatown in 2019, adding draft cocktails to the menu.
Chaia plans to serve its tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, sweet potato nachos, and sides like black beans and herby green rice in Bethesda. The company will also introduce a kids’ meal.
“There’s a younger generation of smart, sustainability-minded and eco-conscious kids and teens looking to eat more plants and get their vegetables,” Stern says.
Chaia staffers make salsa and tortillas on-site. Everything except for creamy kale and potato tacos can be made vegan.
Stern says the company “always had its sightline on Bethesda,” an affluent neighborhood that’s flush with fitness buffs. The city is home to SolidCore, Soul Cycle, and pretty much every other boutique brand under the sun. The nearby Capital Crescent Trail, which Stern frequently runs along herself, should also drive business.
Best sellers include sweet potato nachos — slathered with black beans, pepperjack cheese, arugula pepita salsa, cilantro, pickled red onions, and cilantro-lime jalapenos. Mushroom enchiladas with roasted tomato salsa, pepper jack, and green rice are another popular order. A sweet corn taco is a “massive summer favorite,” Stern says, and could be at the Bethesda store if it opens in early fall as planned. The co-owner says Chaia will blanch, sautee, or roast vegetables to extract the most flavor, and has tailored spices to different plants. “Bringing all those complex layers together makes a Chaia taco,” she says.
During the pandemic, Chaia’s takeout-friendly menu, pivot to walk-up service outdoors, and move to online ordering all helped keep the brand afloat. Because much of its produce comes from local vendors, supply chain snags weren’t a big problem.
“We’ve made it through, strong, focused and ready to rock and roll,” she says.
The new space can seat around 20 people, with about 12 more across its patio. There will be a takeout taco window, too. Given the short length of the lease, renovations will be light.
Chaia’s arrival adds to a growing restaurant scene in downtown Bethesda. That includes the recent arrivals from casual Korean-Chinese hit Chiko and the location of Spanish Diner that José Andrés just installed in place of Jaleo. A location of NYC’s beloved giant cookie shop Levain just arrived. The group behind the Red Hen is building a Roman restaurant with an adjoining All-Purpose pizza shop on Bethesda Avenue.